• Tech Tech

Research warns of troubling trend as disease surges among pregnant mothers and children: 'This is a problem that needs to be taken seriously and quickly'

Officials have been working to limit the outbreak through a variety of means.

Officials have been working to limit the outbreak through a variety of means.

Photo Credit: iStock

The Americas have been dealing with a surge of dengue cases early in 2024, and new research has found the disease appears to have a troubling impact on children whose mothers were infected while pregnant. 

What's happening?

As detailed by Medical Xpress, a study published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics found that children were 27% more likely to be hospitalized from birth to the age of 3 if their mothers had dengue during their pregnancies. At age 2, that risk increased by an astounding 76%. 

The study also discovered that children born to mothers who survived dengue were more likely to have low birth weights, with the risk of having an "extremely low" weight rising by 133%. 

The World Health Organization notes that low birth weights are factors in "a range of poor health outcomes," including delays in developmental milestones. 

Why is this important?

Researchers explained that their findings have wider implications for community health and prosperity, and the problem could continue to grow. 

"These negative birth outcomes … have a much wider impact for communities where dengue fever is common. Hospitalizations and ongoing health issues resulting from maternal infections all have a cost," University of Surrey professor of economics Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner, one of the paper's co-authors, told Medical Xpress. 

While many dengue cases are mild, health economists at Brandeis University's Heller School for Social Policy and Management estimate that the global cost of dengue is nearly $9 billion — higher than other infectious diseases such as cholera.  

Dengue can also be more serious the second time around, and a lot of people live in regions where they could encounter mosquitoes infected with the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 50% of the global population lives in at-risk areas. 

As rising global temperatures make new regions hospitable to mosquitoes — the primary transmitters of viruses including dengue, Zika, and malaria — new populations could be impacted.

"As the planet heats, we can expect to see dengue fever become even more common in countries that have previously not had high infection rates. This is a problem that needs to be taken seriously and quickly," co-author Lívia Menezes, from the University of Birmingham, explained to Medical Xpress. 

What can be done about this?

Researchers concluded that increased education and communication are key to more positive outcomes, and Menezes highlighted to Medical Xpress the need for governments and organizations to continue refining their policies and pest-control methods.

"We strongly suggest that dengue fever should be considered alongside the TORCH infections to manage and avoid when pregnant, which currently include toxoplasmosis, rubella, HIV, syphilis, chicken pox, Zika, and influenza among others," Koppensteiner added.

In the Americas, where record numbers of cases of dengue have been documented, officials have been working to limit the outbreak through a variety of means, including by eliminating mosquito breeding sites, as detailed by the Pan American Health Organization. In Brazil, officials even released bacteria-infected mosquitoes to protect people from the virus.

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider